We have all experienced the existential panic of losing, at least temporarily, our smartphone. The feeling of dread goes far beyond the loss of a wallet or the keys of the house, the loss of which is limited to an object easily reconstituted. In addition to the monetary value of your smartphone, it also consolidates critical and private information about you and your family in one convenient place. The idea of a stranger accessing this personal information is frightening.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to find your lost iPhone or Android device because your smartphone or tablet running iOS or Android already has the software to track it down. There are also a variety of third-party apps that you can install to track your phone.
Find lost smartphones
If you lose track of your iOS or Android smartphone, Apple and Google have built-in phone recovery technology into the native software package that works through your device’s account – Google for your Android account and iCloud for your iPhone. Both allow you to remotely lock and wipe your phone, make it ring, and set up special messages to alert anyone who finds it. These features work great as long as your phone’s battery is good.
Use caution when communicating with anyone who has found your smartphone. Avoid revealing personal information, such as your home address, until you know you are dealing with someone you trust. Stick to sending phone numbers or email addresses to indicate how a finder can return your phone. Here is our guide on how to find a lost phone or similar device for each operating system. The following example uses Android 10.
How to find a lost Android phone
The easiest way to locate a lost Android handset is to use the Find My Device feature, which is built into your Android smartphone through Google Play Services – it can also be used in a browser or downloaded from the Google Play Store. Most devices running Android 2.3 or later can use this feature.
It’s a very good idea to turn on Find My Device on your Android smartphone. Using the feature is as easy as searching for “Where is my phone?” in Google, which will prompt the service to search for your phone. We’ve covered Find My Device and its ability to call you, set up a new password, and ring your phone from afar, along with a variety of other notification features. While you can set up Find My Device in advance, the service should be available if you lose or misplace your phone by using Wi-Fi or GPS to help find your device.
- Go to Settings> Google (or Google services)> Security and make sure Locate this device remotely is activated in the Find my device section.
- You may be prompted to sign in.
- When you open the app or search in your desktop browser, all of your devices are displayed at the top, so just select the appropriate tab to find the specific device you’re looking for.
If you can’t get your smartphone back, you can always erase it to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Your device will need an internet connection and enough juice to communicate with you. In Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google introduced Factory Reset Protection (FRP). It is designed to prevent thieves from stealing your phone, wiping it, and then using or selling it. If you reset a phone with FRP enabled and try to set it up as a new device, you will be prompted for the username and password of the last Google account registered on the device. If you can’t, the phone will remain locked.
Android also works with several third-party apps designed to find your smartphone. One of these apps, Prey Anti Theft, offers remote access and control, allowing you to gather more information about your phone’s location. It offers more granular control over how you or the cops can track your device – GPS coordinates, MAC address, camera photos to help catch the thief, and other more detailed notifications that Find My Device doesn’t offer. .
Another option for some Samsung smartphones is the Find My Mobile service. You can use it to locate, lock or erase a missing phone. You need a Samsung account and have remote control options enabled on your phone. To check and see if Find My Mobile is available for your smartphone, follow these steps.
- Go to Settings> Biometrics and security.
- If you see Find my cell phone in the menu you can use the service.
- Activate the remote control options via Settings> Biometrics and security> Find my mobile> Remotes.
How to find a lost iPhone
Apple gives you a roadmap for locating a missing iPhone: Find My Native Apple iPhone. The app is preinstalled on every iOS device and can display your missing device on a map to help you locate and manage it easily. You will need a computer or other iOS device with the Find My iPhone feature to deploy this solution. We used a lost iPad running iPadOS 14 in this example.
- Tap Settings> Your Apple ID (name)> Find My.
- This brings you to the Find my sheet where you press next Find my iphone to turn it on if it is off. (Note: it should never be disabled).
- When Find My iPhone is turned on, also tap the switches Activate offline search and Send last location. These help you determine where you last left your phone in case internet services are currently disabled.
- With all these checks ready, come back to Settings> Apple ID and scroll down to see all your devices in a list.
- Tap on the device you are missing and it will take you to a device information sheet that allows you to search for it directly.
- Tap Find my (iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch), and then tap Show in Find My iPhone and it displays a map that shows you its exact location and directions to get there.
- The service also gives you the option to play sound on your device, mark the device as lost, and send message to your phone in lost mode.
- You also have the option of erasing the device, in case it falls into the wrong hands.
- Find My iPhone can also locate your Mac, iPod, and iPad. It is an incredibly efficient tool for locating just about any iOS device. Don’t believe us?
Apple also uses an activation lock to protect your iPhone against theft. On by default, Activation Lock requires you to type in your Apple ID and password before you can deactivate Find My iPhone, erase your device, or reactivate it.
How to find your not-so-smart cell phone
With simple cell phones, there aren’t as many programmatic or app-based options available to help you find a lost handset. But there are still standard procedures if your cell phone goes missing. Try to do the following.
- Call your cell phone. Listen to the ringtone or vibration and try to locate your phone using proven human detection. If your phone is truly lost and in someone else’s hands, they are likely to respond if they intend to return it.
- Retrace your steps. Do a full visual search. If you don’t hear a ringtone or vibration when you call it, don’t immediately assume that your phone is located far away – the battery might just be dead.
- Send an SMS to your phone. If you think someone has stolen or maybe found your phone, text your phone with your contact details and a reward offer if you choose to do so. There are many online services that allow you to send free text messages, such as txtDrop.com.
- Alert your service provider. If you’ve lost hope of finding it, call your wireless carrier and let them know your phone is lost. Ask if they offer a GPS tracking service. Otherwise, ask them to suspend service to your phone to avoid fraudulent charges. Operators have different policies on this, but it’s still worth a try, even for a smartphone. This FCC page has a handy list of numbers.
- Save your lost phone. If you know your phone’s IMEI number or if you wrote it down somewhere, register it with Immobilize.
- Prepare for the next time you lose your phone. Maybe you are one of those people who always lose their phone. You may want to consider signing up for a tracking service such as AccuTracking.